I recently joined five Long Island high school students for a visit to the Joseph Lloyd Manor in Lloyd Harbor, the 18th-century site where many enslaved people of African descent lived. The visit yielded a fascinating discussion with significant implications for education on Long Island.
The five diverse students are part of ERASE Racism’s Student Task Force, a student-led initiative that advances racial and socioeconomic equity on issues that impact their everyday lives. The students came from four school districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The visit was part of a series of similar events happening across the country called Teach the Truth Day of Action.
What was initially so striking to me was that none of the students knew that slavery had existed on Long Island. They were surprised that they had not learned such a notable historical fact in school.
The extent to which the history of actions detrimental to people of color has been left out of history books was underscored by this year’s 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, which destroyed 35 blocks of a renowned Black community and killed as many as 300 Black people. As the History Channel stated, “The riot reflected terribly on the city and subsequently wasn’t included in history books or newspapers for decades.” A survey conducted by The Oklahoman this year found that the vast majority of Oklahomans learned about the massacre outside of school.
There is a growing national debate about the extent to which school curricula should address the less-than-noble aspects of American history, especially as they relate to the experiences of people of color. On one side of the debate is New York state, whose Education Department has taken substantial steps to recognize diversity, equity and inclusion in curricula. In 2018, the state published a framework for culturally responsive curricula, on which I had been asked to comment while it was in draft form. The framework supports local districts in creating curricula that elevate historically marginalized voices, affirm diverse identities, perspectives and cultures, assure rigor and foster independent learning.
Elaine Gross is president of the civil rights organization ERASE Racism.
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